Kathleen G. Kane - Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General - Protecting Pennsylvanians

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How do you take the ?con? out of a home improvement contract?

Now that the winter is over, many of us are thinking about hiring a contractor to perform various home improvement projects.

Every year, thousands of Pennsylvanians file consumer complaints about home improvement contractors who take money and don?t do any of the work or perform unsatisfactory construction or repairs. These complaints typically increase during the spring, when homeowners are more likely to hire contractors to perform various projects. If you plan to hire a contractor, there are important things to keep in mind.

How can I protect myself against the unscrupulous contractor?

To guard against hiring a disreputable or fraudulent home improvement contractor, you should:

  • Never enter into a repair or improvement project without a written contract that includes a start and finish date and a three-day-right to cancel notice.
  • Never sign a blank contract, or one that does not include all the costs and supplies.
  • Never hire a contractor who does not have a business card or local phone number and address. The business should have an actual physical address, not just a P.O. Box.
  • Never hire a contractor who refuses to give you names and phone numbers of references.
  • Never make final payment until you are completely satisfied with the work.
  • Never feel pressured by contractors who make special or limited price offers.

What should be in my contract before work is performed on my home?

  • A written contract that includes the type, quality and warranty of materials to be used and outlines all the financial terms and payment schedules. Do not pay for the entire job up front. Include a penalty clause in the contract for failure to complete work on time.
  • A complete description of the work to be done and a guarantee that old materials and debris will be removed. Insist that the workplace remains clean and safe for the duration of the project
  • That all necessary permits are secured by the contractor and that they have proper liability and compensation insurance. Contact your local building codes officer if you have questions or if you have concerns regarding the quality of work performed.
  • I always encourage consumers to shop around and get at least three written estimates for the same work before selecting a contractor. A small amount of research can eliminate big problems when hiring a contractor to perform home improvement projects.

What are some of the elements of a home improvement scam?

  • Unsolicited, traveling contractors who come to your home and point out specific problems you haven?t noticed yourself.
  • Contractors who arrive in an unmarked truck or van and who refuse to provide proof of insurance and references when requested.
  • Contractors claiming "I've just done a job nearby and have some material left over, so I can give you a great deal on the job." 
  • High pressure sales tactics 

For additional information on how to select a home improvement contractor or to report a fraudulent contractor, call my Bureau of Consumer Protection at 1-800-441-2555 or visit our web site at www.attorneygeneral.gov.